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Working Paper 148


My purpose here is, first, to review the different ways we can define poverty. I will argue (Section II) that what people generally mean by poverty – or, more generally, by economic well-being – cannot be adequately captured by a single, absolute measure. In particular, the meaning cannot be adequately captured by a person’s or a people’s absolute level of income. This point has been widely recognized and is embodied in the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), Sen’s capabilities concept, and to a degree in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) themselves. The fact that there are several goals in the MDGs underscores the recognition that attaining an income goal alone does not eliminate poverty. A closely related issue that I will note in this section is that poverty (or well-being) cannot be captured adequately by any single measure or single combination of measures, such as the HDI.


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